Frontal Convergence and Vertical Velocity Measured by Drifters in the Alboran Sea

Daniel R. Tarry, Sebastian Essink, Ananda Pascual, Simón Ruiz, Pierre Marie Poulain, Tamay Özgökmen, Luca R. Centurioni, J. Thomas Farrar, Andrey Shcherbina, Amala Mahadevan, Eric D’Asaro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Horizontal and vertical motions associated with mesoscale (10–100 km) and submesoscale (1–10 km) features, such as fronts, meanders, eddies, and filaments, play a critical role in redistributing physical and biogeochemical properties in the ocean. This study makes use of a multiplatform data set of 82 drifters, a Lagrangian float, and profile timeseries of temperature and salinity, obtained in a ∼1-m/s semipermanent frontal jet in the Alboran Sea as part of CALYPSO (Coherent Lagrangian Pathways from the Surface Ocean to Interior). Drifters drogued at ∼1-m and 15-m depth capture the mesoscale and submesoscale circulation aligning along the perimeter of fronts due to horizontal shear. Clusters of drifters are used to estimate the kinematic properties, such as vorticity and divergence, of the flow by fitting a bivariate plane to the horizontal drifter velocities. Clusters with submesoscale length scales indicate normalized vorticity ζ/f > 1 with Coriolis frequency f and normalized divergence of (Formula presented.) (1) occurring in patches along the front, with error variance around 10%. By computing divergence from drifter clusters at two different depths, we estimate minimum vertical velocity of (Formula presented.) (−100 m day−1) in the upper 10 m of the water column. These results are at least twice as large as previous estimates of vertical velocity in the region. Location, magnitude, and timing of the convergence are consistent with behavior of a Lagrangian float subducting in the center of a drifter cluster. These results improve our understanding of frontal subduction and quantify convergence and vertical velocity using Lagrangian tools.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020JC016614
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021


  • Alboran Sea
  • Lagrangian float
  • drifters
  • kinematic properties
  • submesoscale
  • vertical velocity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Oceanography


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